Review: The Family Men by Catherine Harris

“After the bang of the Grand Final, the year ends with a whimper. Exhaustion. Anticlimax”

                                   -Catherine Harris, The Family Men

There is nothing quite like Melbourne in the lead up to the last weekend in September. The city is alive with the finals fever as the colours of the top two teams adorn shop windows, scarves hang out car windows and the tension between fans is palpable. For those who love their football there is nothing better! There is a disappointment if your own team hasn’t made it to the finals but as a football lover it is still mighty exciting. I love the football – I admire the athleticism and strength of the players and the camaraderie between teammates and footy fans alike. For six months of the year the lives of many revolve around the football fixture but for the players and their families, the game never ends. The Family Men by Catherine Harris seemed like a perfect book to start on grand final weekend.

Catherine Harris aims to portray a very different side of the football world. Harry Furey was born into a football family dynasty. Born with natural talent, Harry is recruited under the father-son rule, following in the steps of his older brother, father and grandfather. He has lived his life under the scrutiny of the world after a mistake made by his father, a drug and alcohol fuelled action that cost a young girl her life. Sadly, as a young boy in a man’s world, Harry is soon caught up in his own storm, as an incident occurs at the Sportsman’s Night (organised by the football club), a boy’s night of sex, drugs and alcohol.

Harris has created a very interesting story focusing on the cyclic nature of life, specifically the repetition of behaviour. The book starts and ends at the same point however we see the story emerge from two different points of view. Harry’s story begins after the Sportman’s Night and the girl’s story – whose name we never learn – begins as she prepares for the same night. Harris is very critical of both sexes and she portrays the worst of each. She explores the ‘pack’ mentality of sports clubs where they train together, live together, play together and of course, protect together. The motto of the book is “what happens at Sportsman’s night stays at Sportsman’s night” (page 240).  The males in the book are portrayed as sexist and derogatory, believing that they are god-like, treating all females as though they are below them. There is an expectation that females will fall at their feet and perform however the males want them too. The male’s behaviour is deemed acceptable, necessary even – “I thought Matt told you to forget about it… these things happen. They happen all the time… people are going to let their hair down, blow off some steam. So it got a little wild. Big deal…the booze, the bravado, the girls. It’s the whole fucking point. I doubt she’s given it a second thought. Too busy counting her money” (page 128)

In this book, there is no power struggle between the sexes. The men have all the power. On page 171, Harry’s mum makes the comment “pity he’s so famous or he’d probably be in jail” in regards to Harry’s dad. As a famous footballer, he partied hard with drugs and alcohol that resulted in the loss of a life. In the end, the only consequence was the vicious backlash from the media and the breakdown of his marriage and family.

Harris is equally as harsh on the females in the story. Harry’s victim is a young teen, trying to act older than she is. We never learn her name but we see how innocent and completely naïve she is in regards to the world she wants to be a part of. She puts herself in an extremely dangerous situation and pays the ultimate price. Harry’s girlfriend is another example of how poorly females are portrayed. As a football ‘groupie’ she pushes herself onto Harry at every opportunity, offering what she believes every young male desires. Harry takes what he can get but he is often “repulsed” by both his and her actions.

There are no strong female characters in this book, each is a victim of male privilege. Harris is making some very strong points about the privilege and expectation of men, particularly those from the sporting field. It certainly made for some uncomfortable reading at some points.

Overall, I think The Family Men is a good book. Stylistically I don’t like many of the choices. The format of the book makes reading tough as there are only three main parts with no chapter breaks in between. Part one is 116 pages! The story also reads as a stream of consciousness and it’s a little long winded in parts. However, I did like the language the author uses and I think that she is very clear in her intention and opinion. It is a good read and not necessarily just for football fans. It has been suggested that Night Games by Anna Krien is a good non-fiction equivalent, which explores very similar issues. I will be looking to read this one at some point too!



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